The Lincoln City Council broke with tradition and agreed to reimburse eight people for mailboxes damaged by a city snowplow.
The council, in a unanimous vote Monday, agreed to pay up to $100 apiece for claims submitted by people who live on Normal Boulevard whose mailboxes were damaged by a snowplow with a malfunctioning wing blade during a mid-February snowstorm.
The City Council has never, in recent history, paid a claim for a mailbox damaged by a city plow, in prior cases pointing to state law and city ordinance that exempt the city from liability.
The city takes no responsibility for private property in the public right of way, and mailboxes fall in that category.
In fact, in the same Monday meeting, the council denied claims for three mailboxes damaged by snowplows that were not on Normal Boulevard.
The Normal Boulevard incident is different, several council members said.
“This is exceptional circumstances ... with about 30 mailboxes taken out by a defective wing blade," said Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird.
“There is nothing ordinary about a snowplow taking out 30 mailboxes in a fell swoop,” she said.
No one knows exactly when the damage occurred, not the property owners, who were likely asleep, nor the multiple drivers of the truck blamed for striking the 30 mailboxes along the north side of Normal Boulevard between 40th and 63rd streets as crews were clearing snow Feb. 17, said Chris Connolly, acting city attorney.
As complaints rolled in, Lincoln Transportation and Utility Department leaders had hoped the city could carve out an exception and pay claims that involved damage to mailboxes along one street.
But they were overruled by the city Law Department and the precedence of not paying mailbox claims.
The council's decision is not setting a precedent, said Councilman Roy Christensen. The city has paid claims that normally wouldn’t be paid when there was an unusual circumstance, he said, pointing to a special program several years ago.
The city created a program to provide up to $5,000 in cleanup costs for property owners whose homes and businesses were flooded when a city wastewater treatment plant backed up during heavy rain events in 2014 and 2015.
Councilman Jon Camp pointed out that because about 30 mailboxes were damaged along Normal Boulevard during the February storm, the council might expect some more claims.
That would mean claims could add up to $3,000, based on the $100 maximum payment.
Any future claims will be taken up separately by the council, members said.
It's like playing the lottery. If you don't buy a ticket you can't win, said Councilwoman Jane Raybould. If you want to get paid for damages, you have to file a claim, she said.
The claims so far have ranged from $56 to nearly $350, said Councilman Carl Eskridge, who offered the motion to pay the claims. Actual reimbursement would be based on costs submitted but would not exceed $100.